This was the conclusion of research conducted at Bath University, UK. Whilst the mass media lead us to believe that levels of teenage obesity are rising due to laziness, a love affair with computer games and appalling eating habits it seems that the reality is somewhat different. A huge majority of teenage girls see improving their health and fitness as a priority.

So what is stopping them from being fitter? 49% of girls do not feel comfortable exercising in front of other people, particularly boys. In addition to this teenagers I have spoken to don’t enjoy the traditional PE activities such as football, hockey and netball. In fact many teenage girls simply don’t enjoy exercise with a competitive element instead stating a preference for more graceful exercises such as yoga or dance.

The study, conducted by the Nestle Social Research Programme also found that only 45% of teenagers eat the recommended amounts of fresh fruit and vegetables each day and just 56% check the sugar and fat levels in the food they eat. It concluded that “young people have very patchy understanding about how to monitor their eating.”

The reality is that an overweight teenager is likely to become an obese adult who risks obesity-related conditions such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes. A teenage girl’s level of physical activity has a direct influence on her weight and most teenage girls reduce their rate of physical activity once they reach the teenage years. Good exercise and nutrition are essential for long term good health.

It seems that instead of criticizing teenage girls for not exercising and making poor food choices there is huge scope for delivering activity sessions they will enjoy and providing them with the tools to make healthy eating a reality. It seems unfair to place the task solely on the shoulders of teenagers. Adult intervention is needed. Recently we have seen the emergence of zumba, cheerleading, street dance and boot camp style exercise classes all of which have a huge appeal to image conscious teenage girls.

In my local area I have worked closely with Youth Clubs and Duke of Edinburgh Award Co-ordinators to deliver boot camp style exercise classes. Whilst many teenagers initially fear that these may be just like their PE lessons once they have been coaxed along and experienced a class first hand they realize that this is a great way to exercise. Class structure means they can work out with their friends in a small, all girl environment where they are all able to work at their own level without fear of competition.

A great way to boost self-esteem and actively work towards the fitter, healthier body they aspire to.

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